Safe Holiday Food Favorites
Welcome to USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service Food Safety at home
podcast series. These podcasts were designed with you in mind - the consumer - who
purchases and prepares meat, poultry and processed egg products
for your family and friends.
Each episode will bring you a different food safety topic ranging from safe storage, handling,
and preparation of meat, poultry and processed egg products to the importance of keeping
foods safe during a power outage.
So sit back, turn up the volume and listen in.
Welcome to “Food Safety at Home.” This is Kathy Bernard with the Food Safety and Inspection
Service. I’m your host for this segment. With me today is Tina Hanes, technical information
specialist from the Food Safety Education Staff. We will discuss making safe holiday food
Hello Tina, welcome to the show.
Thank you Kathy, I’m pleased to be here.
Let’s talk about holiday food favorites and how to prepare them safely.
At holiday times, everyone has favorite foods they enjoy. Some are even memorialized in song,
such as the “crisp apple strudels and schnitzel with noodles” from the The Sound of Music’s
“My Favorite Things.”
America's favorite holiday foods can contain raw eggs or lightly cooked eggs, such as homemade
eggnog. Unbroken, clean, fresh shell eggs may contain Salmonella Enteritidis bacteria that can
cause foodborne illness. While the number of eggs affected is quite small, there have been
cases of foodborne illness -- specifically Salmonellosis -- in the last few years. To be safe,
eggs must be properly handled, refrigerated, and cooked.
How do the bacteria get into the raw egg?
Bacteria can be on the outside or inside of an uncracked, whole egg. Contamination of eggs may
be caused by bacteria within the hen’s ovary or oviduct before the shell forms around the yolk
and white. Salmonella don’t make the hen sick, but if a person ingests live Salmonella
bacteria, it can ruin several days of the holidays by causing a foodborne illness, like
Hmm….well, then, how do you make homemade eggnog safe to drink?
Let me say, first, that most commercially sold eggnog is pasteurized, meaning the mixture has
been heated to a temperature high enough to kill harmful bacteria that may have been present
in the raw ingredients.
However, if you're making your own eggnog, be sure to use a recipe that calls for slowly
heating the egg and milk or cream mixture to 160 °F as measured with a food thermometer. This
will maintain the taste and texture while also killing bacteria that can cause foodborne
As an alternative, you may use uncooked, pasteurized eggs or egg products when preparing
recipes that call for using eggs raw or undercooked.
My grandmother always made the best homemade divinity candy, but it’s made with raw, beaten
egg whites. Is it considered safe today?
Yes, your grandmother’s divinity recipe is still safe to make as well as that frothy, 7-minute
frosting many people use to frost angel food cakes. These recipes are made by combining hot
sugar syrup with beaten egg whites. The hot sugar syrup is hot enough to destroy any bacteria
that could be in the raw egg whites when they are folded into the syrup.
What about the meringues on the top of pies?
Meringue-topped pies will be safe if baked at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for about 15 minutes. The
key here is to bake the meringue slowly so the heat penetrates completely through it, not just
brown the meringue on the top.
Now, chiffon pies and fruit whips made with raw, beaten egg whites are something else. They
cannot be guaranteed to be safe. Instead, substitute pasteurized dried egg whites, whipped
cream, or a whipped topping.
But back to meringues, those meringue shells that are baked until they are DRY are safe. But
avoid cake or cookie frosting recipes using uncooked eggs or egg whites, such as Royal Icing
sometimes used to “glue” together gingerbread houses. If you must use this type of icing, just
make sure that no one eats the gingerbread house—especially children. They are at higher risk
from bacteria than healthy adults because their immune systems are not as strong.
Speaking of kids, what about the safety of eating raw cookie dough?
I remember doing this as a kid, but it’s really dangerous for children (or adults) to eat raw
cookie dough, or lick the beaters after mixing batter containing raw eggs, which, there again,
could be contaminated with Salmonella—a leading cause of foodborne illness.
Let’s talk about another holiday favorite, pumpkin pie.
On the Hotline, I got a call from someone who baked some pumpkin pies over the weekend and
left them on the counter for five days. She wanted to know if she should have refrigerated
People do get confused when they see pumpkin pies on the shelves at grocery stores that are
not refrigerated. However, these commercially baked pies contain preservatives. Homemade
pumpkin pies do not.
Do pumpkin pies need to be refrigerated because of the egg ingredient?
Yes. Foods made with eggs and milk, such as pumpkin pie, custard pie and cheesecake, must
first be safely baked to a safe minimum internal temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit. Then,
they must be refrigerated after baking. Eggs and milk have a high protein and moisture
content, and when these baked products are left at room temperature, conditions are ripe for
bacteria to multiply.
It's not necessary to refrigerate most fruit pies, other cakes, cookies, or breads unless they
have a perishable filling or frosting, such as a cream cheese frosting.
Back to the “crisp apple strudels and schnitzel with noodles,” how do you handle them?
Apple strudels can be stored at room temperature. Schnitzel, being a meat dish, should be
cooked to a safe internal temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit as measured with a food
thermometer. Both schnitzel and noodles should not be left at room temperature more than two
hours. If it’s someone’s “favorite thing,” however, there probably won’t be any leftovers to
refrigerate. But if so, use what’s leftover within 3 to 4 days, or freeze it for up to 3 to 4
You can learn more about holiday food safety by visiting the FSIS Web site at
www.fsis.usda.gov Or visit us online for assistance from our virtual representative “Ask
You can talk to a food safety expert by calling the toll-free USDA Meat & Poultry Hotline at
1-888- MPHotline. That’s 1-888-674-6854.
In addition, the Partnership for Food Safety Education has introduced a new Web site this
year, HolidayFoodSafety.org, that contains holiday food safety tips, tasty recipes, and Fight
BAC! activities for kids.
That’s it for this week. We’ve been talking to Tina Hanes, technical information specialist
from FSIS’ Food Safety Education Staff. Thank you so much Tina, for your helpful guidance on
preparing holiday food favorites safely. I’m Kathy Bernard and I’d like to thank you for
joining us for this episode of “Food Safety at Home.” And remember, “Be Food Safe.”
Well, that’s all for this time. Thanks for joining us today for another episode of
food safety at home!
For answers to your food safety questions call USDA's toll-free meat and poultry hotline
at 1-888-mphotline. That’s 1-888-674-6854.
You can also get answers to food safety questions online from our virtual representative
"ask karen" at www.askkaren.gov .
Let us know what you think of this podcast by sending your comments to
Thanks for tuning in.
Last Modified: July 9, 2008